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ISSUE 119 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/2/2005

'Walk the Line' cashes in at box office

By Colin Halverson
Contributing Writer
and Lindsay Shimizu
Contributing Writer

Friday, December 2, 2005

"Let’s say you’re hit by a truck, laying out in that gutter, dying, and you have time to sing one song: one song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on earth, one song that would sum you up … Now that’s a song that truly saves people." This quote from the film “Walk the Line” presents a moving concept for the 1,000 or more students involved in music at St. Olaf, but also for a young, rock-and-roll/country artist named Johnny Cash.

"Walk the Line" follows the life of country music legend Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) from little JR to the Man in Black. It is a story of his illicit love for fellow artist June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) and his rebellion against his unloving father (Robert Patrick).

"Walk the Line" – based on Cash’s autobiographies, Cash and Man in Black – is the story of the rise, fall and rebirth of the great Johnny Cash. More than simply a film about Cash, it is also a commentary on the delicate balance required to "walk the line" between work and home, stardom and destruction.

If the actors, the script and the cinematography are the pieces, then the music is the glue that unifies the whole. All of Cash’s hits are there: "Ring of Fire," "Cry Cry Cry," "Folsom Prison Blues,” "Cocaine Blues," and the title song "I Walk the Line," each flawlessly integrated and employed to compliment and further the plot.

The movie opens with Cash standing next to a table-saw in the bleak woodshop of California’s Folsom Prison. Loud cheering from a crowd of inmates supplements his daydreaming as we are led into a flashback of his life up to this point.

When Cash is just a kid, his older brother, whom he respected and loved dearly, dies when a woodsaw malfunctions. His father blames Johnny for the death, and creates lasting scars with the words, "He took the wrong son." Cash marries Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) and is signed to Sun Records. He makes it big, but it is not all good news: Johnny starts to mess around with his young female fans, painkillers and alcohol.

On tour he falls in love at first sight with June Carter, a comedian and singer. Cash kills their blooming friendship when he tries to kiss her and she rejects his advances. The rejection depresses him, and he drinks the night away with his fellow musicians.

When June walks into the auditorium, ready to practice for that afternoon’s show, she finds all the men drunk and becomes irate, yelling "Y’all can’t walk no line! You’re gonna ruin the show!"

After this, June and Johnny disassociate and Johnny begins to spiral downward. He falls away from his family and friends and retreats into alcohol and drugs. His familial relations strain even further and finally snap when he begins hanging up pictures of June around the house. With his drug addiction now in full swing, June and her family come to his rescue. "You’re an angel," he tells her.

After collecting himself, Johnny reconnects with his audience: specifically jailbirds. He plays his famous concert at Folsom Prison, and we return to the opening scene of the film with him standing next to a table saw in the woodshop.

Colin: There is no getting around it, men, “Walk the Line” is a romantic drama – but not a sappy chick-flick. It is good enough to win any audience with its touching, defiant story, great music (sung flawlessly by the actors themselves), and Oscar-worthy performances by Phoenix and Witherspoon.

The acting in the movie is truly phenomenal and sure to draw nods from every cinematic award show. Phoenix plays Cash with merciless emotion and the chemistry between him and Witherspoon is practically tangible.

Lindsay: Singing their own vocals, Phoenix and Witherspoon sound amazing, but much like Jamie Fox’s Ray Charles portrayal in, “Ray,” it’s Phoenix’s remarkable performance as Johnny Cash that drives the film to excellence. The distinct, rough, rebellious sound ("Steady like a train, sharp like a razor") that made Cash famous, even outselling the Beatles at his peak, is artfully mastered by Phoenix, as is Cash’s raw, rough-and-tumble attitude.

"Walk the Line" is a brilliant biopic, but more than that, it is an excellent and entertaining film, among the best of 2005. It’s easily comparable to “Ray,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Cinderella Man,” especially in the Oscar buzz department. Nominations are predicted for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, among others.

At number two in the box-office this weekend with a little over $22 million, an impressive amount, especially opening against “Harry Potter,” "Walk the Line" is definitely a film worth seeing, and one you can expect to hear more about in the months leading up to Oscar season.

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